THE House Rule for Rules Heavy Games?

If you wonder why I prefer older versions of D&D or others rules lite games to the rules heavy monsters often published today, you only need to read part of Christian’s Exploring The Magnum Opus That Is Ptolus post over at Destination Unknown where he talks about the one house rule playing D&D 3.5 needs….

Playing D&D 3.5 does require the addition of one house rule. It’s no really a rule, but a modification that takes into account 3.5’s design principles. Namely, players have to be on top of the rules. For example, a player cannot simply say, “I grapple the orc.” Because of the many and varied rules, the player needs to state his intentions AND have the PHB open to the page that covers grappling. If they do not have the rules for their spell, special attack or stats for their summoned monster, they get skipped until they do have them.

In my opinion, that’s an awful way to have to play. I can run OD&D without having to crack a book at all with my homemade GM screen — regardless of whether or not the players know the rules. I can even run a relatively rules-heavy old school game, AD&D First Edition with just a good GM Screen 90% of the time. Sure 10% of the time I’m going to have to pull out a book and look something up, but 90% of what players want their character to do I do not even need to crack the book. This would be almost impossible in a game like 3.5 with thousands of pages of fairly complex and strongly-interrelated rules — or at least it would be impossible for me.

When I play or GM an RPG, I want to have fun. Having to look up rules all the time is as boring to me as watching paint dry. Having to have the rulebook open to whatever rules are needed for whatever I want to do would turn me off as much as long combats or railroaded adventures do.

I can, however, see Christian’s point. The rules for WOTC versions of D&D are so complex that you really need to have the rules for what you want to do right in front of you to reference as you do them. 4e seems to have recognized this and tried to fix it by greatly limiting the choices of what to (compared to earlier editions) and using power cards to put the rules for those choices right in front of the player.

I think it would have been better just to make the rules lighter and less complex, but what do I know? The rules for most of the old standbys (D&D, Hero System, GURPS, etc.) seem to have gotten longer, more detailed, and more complex with every edition. Apparently those few people (very few compared to the numbers of people buying RPGs in the early 1980s) still buying major brand tabletop RPGs prefer games with unending volumes of multi-hundred page rules. They can have them. I’ll stay with older editions with rules the average GM can learn well enough to play without constant reference to the rulebooks or rules light games like Microlite20 and its many variations. I can play and run these games without feeling like I have taken on an extra, unpaid full time job.

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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AllandarosRandallYong KyosunimNick CrayonChristian Recent comment authors
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Hi, I tried to post a link to this in my blog, but it doesn't seem to show up in the "Links to this post" area. Any idea what I can do to make it show up?



@Allandaros — I had to turn off the traceback feature because it attracts more spam tracebacks than real tracebacks. Readers should feel free to post a link to followup posts in their own blogs as a comment. Here's a link to your followup post: Rules-Heavy Games.


Awesome, thanks! I'm brand new to this whole Blogspot deal (posting, not reading); it didn't even occur to me that the trackbacks might not be enabled. D'oh…

Yong Kyosunim

For D&D 3.x on up, I would say it's a rules-heavy game because it's designed to facilite gameplay in a lot of situations for the fantasy setting. But for Hero System and GURPS, I think a more accurate description is that they are toolkits because they require the GM to build the campaign, setting, everything from scratch and then use which rules work in the game and which ones to discard. For me, I tend to go both ways. Right now, I run a Pathfinder game, but in my off-time, I'm building my own campaign setting and system using Hero… Read more »

Nick Crayon

I hear you. It's the reason that I couldn't go back to playing post 3e after I got used to playing Labyrinth Lord. Character creation takes forever and by the time we're done trying to figure out which rule combination will give us enough power to take down the Ogres or Dragons or whatever we think we'll face, we're all bored and need to take a break. Heavy rulesets aren't any fun at all, if you ask me. 4th edition was a better step than third, but they could have made it lighter. I don't mind radical redesigns of games… Read more »


I tend to agree. I ran a 13 session Labyrinth Lord campaign, but we had to stop. Most sessions had only two players and many had just one. I'm trying to rebuild our game group and 3.5, Pathfinder or 4e are the best way to do so given the gaming climate in L.A. It sucks. Few people will commit to a game and if they do, they want D&D in the modern versions.

Perhaps I can build a group, then nudge them along the path to simplicity.

Christian, the man with the 3.5 PHB glued to his hand.

Robert Fisher

There are two reasons this hasn’t been the case in the 3e games I’ve played in. 1. In some cases it’s because the DM simply runs the game more old school and no one really cares if things aren’t strictly by-the-book. Not much different than how my old AD&D group were really playing D&D with the AD&D books. 2. In other cases it is because the DM—and often one or two players—know the rules very well, so we could play pretty closely by-the-book without opening the books. The rules masters in the group are also interested in using their knowledge… Read more »